The Libertarian Theology of Rushdoony and the Christian Reconstruction Movement

R. J. Rushdoony

Here is an essay that Gary North says offers an accurate assessment of the origins and development of the Christian Reconstruction movement and its theological (and political) principles.

It was written in 2007 by a Ph.D. candidate at Ohio State University, Michael J. McVicar (posted in his blog, June 2012).  Neither a “hit piece” nor a ringing endorsement.  But, I am warning you!  It paints a rather stark (yet relatively bias-free, though it’s a little prickly towards the Tyler, Texas side of the ledger) picture of the major players — Rousas J. Rushdoony and Gary North — as well as other key figures who helped shape and define the movement, how it came into being, how it ultimately came to split into disparate camps, and how the movement, in McVicar’s opinion, fares “today” (2007).

Now, this is not a “decline and fall” kind of an article.  It is more of an academic — and critical — summary of a very broad and deep intellectual and theological school of thought which, while it initially launched from a single port, has now — almost because of rather than in spite of the rifts and disputes of its leaders — sailed far and wide and has carried its “Christian libertarian” message to lands more distant and in ways far different from what its founders may have originally intended or anticipated.

For those of you who embrace the biblical-theological-eschatological message of Christian Reconstruction (and even if you don’t!), this article may serve to “connect the dots” and fill in the timeline of your understanding a little bit better with “the good, the bad and the ugly” of how we got here, where we came from, where we’re going and where we stand as a movement.

If anything, it shows the human side of fallible but gifted men who have played strategic, providential roles in moving the certain advancement of the kingdom of God forward to the “next level” of integration and transformation.

My main criticism is that it portrays Rushdoony’s objective (and by extension, the objective of his colleagues) as that of founding a “theocratic America” rather than fostering a theonomic, self-governing, self-consciously biblical Christianity, both in America and around the world.  And regarding Gary North, well, once you get used to his in-your-face analysis and “acrid prose,” his writing becomes music to your ears!

(Compare this with an alternate assessment (“Christian Reconstruction is alive and well”) written from a pastor’s perspective, that is more recent (and more brief), which I comment on here.)

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The Libertarian Theocrats

By Michael J. McVicar, Fall 2007

In their struggle to understand George W. Bush, some liberal intellectuals have looked to the writings of Rousas John Rushdoony, the Armenian-American minister whose championing of a theocratic America influenced some of the nooks and crannies of the Christian Right during its rise to prominence. For example Mark Crispin Miller, in his frontal assault on George W. Bush’s response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,1 charges that Bush not only acted unconstitutionally, but in his religious imagery echoed the infiltration of Rushdoony’s ideas into his Administration (and the Republican Party at large). Miller interprets Rushdoony’s theology as a call for Christians to take “dominion” over all aspects of the federal government and replace it with a theocracy.2 “With their eyes on the future, those [Rushdoony followers] at work on forging an all-Christian USA are overjoyed that Bush is president, for they correctly see the regime’s imposition on the people as itself a signal victory for their movement.”3

But a spokesman for the think tank Rushdoony founded told me Miller is wrong (Rushdoony himself died in 2001). Registering disgust, Chris Ortiz of the Chalcedon Foundation in Vallecito, California, explained that Christian Reconstructionists, as they call themselves, think the war in Iraq is both immoral and ungodly. Not only are a good many stridently critical of the Bush administration, Ortiz said, he agreed with Miller’s indictment of Bush, which he heard during a recent radio interview. At best, some Reconstructionists might see Bush as a well-intentioned fool, Ortiz told me. Many see him as a manipulative politician who snowballed the American people into supporting his disastrous presidency.

Those casually familiar with Rushdoony and Christian Reconstruction may find Ortiz’s comments befuddling since a recent spat of popular books like Miller’s Cruel and Unusual have argued the exact opposite, identifying Rushdoony and his followers as allies of the Bush administration. Ortiz surely wants to distance himself from a failing president, but his remarks also reveal a Reconstructionist distaste for the hard, government-centered politics that brought Christian conservatives into the corridors of Beltway power.

Since the movement’s emergence in the mid-1960s, Christian Reconstruction has always been a little different from other factions of American conservatism. Not surprisingly, the movement wins attention for Rushdoony’s call for the eventual end of democracy in favor of a Christian theocracy, and his insistence that a “godly order” would enforce the death penalty for homosexuals and those who worship false idols.4 But Christian Reconstructionists insist that they have always been uncomfortable with authoritarian institutions of political power because, unlike Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, Rushdoony wedded his rigid theological perspective with a libertarian perspective that looked outside the boundaries of popular conservatism for answers to the problems facing the United States.

“Christian Libertarians”

At first glance, the phrase “Christian libertarian” seems a contradiction, especially when one applies it to Dominionists – as the full range of those calling for a Christian nation are called – and Christian Reconstructionists. It is true that today a secular – and in some cases rabidly atheistic – tendency dominates libertarianism. But this has not always been the case.

During the 1930s, a wide variety of business, intellectual, and religious leaders banded together to attack Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. Those who emphasized the sovereignty of the individual citizen, resistance to a centralized bureaucracy, and the benefits of unfettered free market capitalism eventually coalesced into the libertarian movement that we know today. For a brief period into the 1940s, these anti-New Deal forces formed an alliance with Protestant religious leaders determined to resist “socialistic” tendencies within the church.5 While this cooperation was short-lived, it had a profound impact on the contemporary Christian Right.

The chief target of these economically conservative evangelical clergymen was the Social Gospel, a wide-ranging theological and social movement rooted in the late 19th century whose champions sought to fight poverty and improve the conditions of America’s poorest using the government to regulate market forces. The Social Gospelers pulled together across denominational lines to advocate for a heightened awareness of labor conditions in the country. But the movement had a theological side; its clergy tended to emphasize the corporate, collective nature of salvation. Moreover, many were willing to embrace evolutionary theory as a means of explaining human origins. Such a naturalistic perspective led to a willingness to see human beings as the product of their material and social environment.

Like many in the Progressive Era, the reform-minded period before World War I, the Social Gospelers believed that legislation and government regulation could change Americans for the better by changing the social environment in which they lived. By focusing attention on the social context that drives individuals to sin, the social gospel seemed to downplay the individual, embodied experience of salvation that American evangelicals have traditionally sought.6 Not surprisingly, many prosperous American churchgoers found the emphasis on economic justice over the saving of souls to be yet another expression of the “socialistic” threat to the American way of life.

While the social gospel lost much of its impulse during the economic boom following the war, popular interest in the movement reignited during the Great Depression of the 1930s. To resist this renewed influence – and defend capitalism – the alliance between business and religious leaders sought to reemphasize individual spiritual regeneration and to downplay the effects of social constraints on individual choices.

In 1935, Rev. James Fifield of Chicago formed Mobilization for Spiritual Ideals to address these concerns. Popularly known as Spiritual Mobilization, Fifield’s operation earned the fiscal support of such right-wing philanthropists as J. Howard Pew of Sun Oil, Jasper Crane of DuPont, and B.E. Hutchinson of Chrysler. Facing the daunting task of resisting nearly five decades of entrenched liberal Protestant teaching and the harsh reality of the Depression, Fifield recruited preachers and laymen eager to resist the massive redistribution of wealth envisioned by President Roosevelt. His appeal was simplistic but effective. American clergymen needed to start preaching the Eighth Commandment: “Thou shalt not steal.” In this, the shortest commandment, Fifield and his followers believed they had found the biblical basis for private property and a limit to the government’s ability to redistribute wealth, tax, and otherwise impede commerce.7

In order to undermine government-sponsored economic redistribution, the ministers and laymen Fifield hired focused on the spiritual causes of poverty rather than the social concerns of the Social Gospelers. The New Deal and the conflicts with the Nazis and Soviets were manifestations of humankind’s rejection of God’s divinity for that of a centralized bureaucracy. An all-powerful bureaucracy, they warned, usurped the “Christian principle of love” with the “collectivist principle of compulsion.”8 Beginning in 1949, the Christ-centered free market ideals of Spiritual Mobilization reached nearly fifty thousand pastors and ministers via the organization’s publication, Faith and Freedom.9 With the rhetorical flare of such libertarian luminaries as the Congregationalist minister Edmund A. Opitz, the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, and the anarchist Murray Rothbard, Faith and Freedom moved many clergymen to embrace its anti-tax, non-interventionist, anti-statist economic model.

In his Faith and Freedom articles, Opitz formulated a systematic theology in support of capitalism, merging economic responsibility with individual salvation to form a “libertarian theology of freedom.”10 In assessing the threat of communism and fascism, Opitz argued that the solution was not collective political action. Instead, he noted that the “crisis is in man himself, in each individual regardless of his occupation, education, or nationality.”11Jesus’ Good News was that “the Kingdom of God is within you,” making every man’s salvation an internalized, personal matter. In Opitz’s reading, Jesus’ gospel becomes the basis for a radical individualism that “was the foundation upon which this [American] republic was established.”12

By the mid-1950s, prominent secular libertarian organizations like the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists (ISI) began to supplant Spiritual Mobilization’s influence in libertarian circles. In fact, many of Faith and Freedom‘s regular contributors like Opitz and Rothbard13 left Spiritual Mobilization and began writing for FEE’s publication, The Freeman. Further, Ayn Rand’s atheistic Objectivism pulled many libertarians away from the Christian ideals of Spiritual Mobilization.

While secular libertarianism triumphed, the remnants of its Christian heritage persisted among a small cadre of thinkers and activists who were reluctant to completely jettison Christ from the economy. Spiritual Mobilization helped a generation of theologically and economically conservative clergy find an alternative to the Social Gospel, New Deal, and communism that resonated with their traditional values, pro-business sympathies, and Christian faith. Faith and Freedom encouraged clergymen to see government as a problem, not a solution. The solution wasn’t to take over the government; it was to replace it with something radically different.

The Libertarian Theology of R. J. Rushdoony

Among the many ministers who read Faith and Freedom was a young Presbyterian pastor living in Santa Cruz, California, named R. J. Rushdoony. Rushdoony was attracted to Faith and Freedom‘s consistent warnings of the dangers of a centralized governmental bureaucracy. Born in New York City in 1916 to survivors of the Armenian Genocide, Rushdoony knew the dangers of centralized power all too well. Just a year before his birth in the States, Rushdoony’s older brother Rousas George died during the Ottoman Siege of Van, becoming one of 1.5 million Armenians eventually killed byTurkish forces.14 Rushdoony’s father Y. K. Rushdoony secured his family’s escape first to Russia and eventually to New York City.

Beyond the dangers of governmental violence, Rushdoony was also particularly attracted to Faith and Freedom‘s articles on public education.15 Like many conservative clergymen, Rushdoony saw public schools as hotbeds for collectivist indoctrination and anti-Christian pluralism. Faith and Freedom suggested that it was just to resist compulsory public education, but Rushdoony found the publication’s writers to be inadequate theologians. Therefore, during the 1950s Rushdoony set about to provide a systematic theological justification for Christians to reject public education and embrace locally organized, independent Christian schools. Deploying a unique blend of libertarianism with the most rigorous Calvinistic theology he could muster, Rushdoony delivered a series of lectures on Christian education. When Rushdoony collected the lectures into a single volume, Intellectual Schizophrenia, Edmund Optiz wrote an enthusiastic foreword and helped to secure Rushdoony’s position as a rising star in the Christian libertarian movement.

It is important to understand Rushdoony’s critique of public education, because it is a microcosm of his broader theological project. As a theologian Rushdoony saw human beings as primarily religious creatures bound to God, not as rational autonomous thinkers. While this may seem an esoteric theological point, it isn’t. All of Rushdoony’s influence on the Christian Right stems from this single, essential fact. Many critics of Christian Reconstructionism assume that Rushdoony’s unique contribution to the Christian Right was his focus on theocracy. In fact, Rushdoony’s primary innovation was his single-minded effort to popularize a pre-Enlightenment, medieval view of a God-centered world. By de-emphasizing humanity’s ability to reason independently of God, Rushdoony attacked the assumptions most of us uncritically accept.

Following the lead of the Reformed theologians Herman Dooyeweerd and Cornelius Van Til,16 Rushdoony argued that all human knowledge is invalid if it is not rooted in the Bible. In his first book, By What Standard, published in 1958, Rushdoony summarized the ideas of Van Til and Dooyeweerd. Van Til, a Reformed Presbyterian teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, offered a radical critique of all human knowledge, arguing that it emerges from one’s theological presumptions (e.g. there is one God, many gods, or no god). For Christians, that means a three-in-one Christian God is the source of reliable human knowledge.

The implications of Van Til’s thought are far reaching. As Rushdoony explains, mankind’s first sin was an ethical fact with consequences for the nature of knowledge: when Eve succumbed to the Serpent’s temptation to “be as gods, knowing good from evil,” she asserted her own intellectual autonomy over that of God’s.17 Mankind’s “fall” into sin was precipitated by a desire to reason independently from God’s authority.18 Rushdoony extended Van Til’s ideas to their logical end to argue that all non-Christian knowledge is sinful, invalid nonsense. The only valid knowledge that non-Christians possess is “stolen” from “Christian-theistic” sources.19

In Rushdoony’s thought, knowledge becomes a matter of disputed sovereignty. Every thought that does not begin with God and the Bible is rebellious: “Man seeks to think creatively rather than think God’s thoughts after Him. Evil is the result of man’s rebellion against God…. Man’s fall was his attempt to become the original interpreter rather than the re-interpreter, to be the ultimate instead of the proximate source of knowledge.”20 Accordingly, humanity’s pretence to independent knowledge becomes a matter of rebellion against God’s Kingdom because “any attempt to know and control the future outside of God is to set up another god in contempt of the LORD.”21 Rushdoony made thinking an explicitly religious activity, a shift in focus with political implications: thinking becomes a matter of kingship, power, rebellion, and, in the final analysis, warfare. Either human thought recognizes God’s sovereignty, or it doesn’t. There is no middle ground, no compromise. It is a war between those who, like Rushdoony, think God’s thoughts after Him and those who do not.

If thinking and education are a matter of God’s disputed sovereignty, then Rushdoony believed that Christians who turned their children over to public schools were in open rebellion against God. In Rushdoony’s view, court orders forcing public schools to cease prayer and bible readings actually removed the only possible foundation for viable knowledge. Following such earlier Presbyterian luminaries as A.A. Hodge (1823-1886) and J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937), Rushdoony’s solution was to remove one’s children from public schools and to educate them in an explicitly Christian environment. Such an action brings both child and parent into accord with the “fundamental task of Christian education,” which, Rushdoony summarized, is to exercise dominion, “subduing the earth agriculturally, scientifically, culturally, artistically, in every way asserting the crown rights of King Jesus in every realm of life.”22

In many of the Faith and Freedom articles published during the 1940s and 1950s, Rushdoony saw a reservoir of popular discontent with compulsory public education and he hoped to develop it as an explicitly Christian resistance to the authority of centralized political structures. In this sense, Rushdoony was a shepherd in search of a flock and the libertarians looked more promising than alternatives. When Edmund Opitz helped secure Rushdoony a position with a small but influential libertarian organization known as the Volker Fund in 1962, Rushdoony moved to exert his unique brand of Calvinist-inspired libertarianism on the organization. He began writing a host of position papers that attacked public education, reinterpreted American history in starkly Christian terms (see box), and advocated for the regeneration of America along explicitly Christian lines. After some internal wrangling, the Fund fired Rushdoony in 1963, but the separation was gentle, giving Rushdoony the necessary resources to write two more books.

Rushdoony’s dismissal from the Fund reflected many of the secularizing changes in American libertarianism of that time. As libertarianism evolved into a more mainstream movement, it forced most of its religious defenders to the side. Rushdoony was but one casualty in this process. By the time he left the Fund, however, he had secured enough experience as a grant writer and public lecturer to set his own course. In 1965, he founded the Chalcedon Foundation, an educational organization that he used to popularize his call for a “Christian Reconstruction” of American society. In the process of forming Chalcedon, Rushdoony decided to mentor an ambitious college student who shared his passion for libertarian economics and Christianity. Their relationship would prove one of the most fascinating – and volatile – in the history of the Christian Right….

(This is a LONG essay! Continue reading here.)

Reconstructionist Blast from the Past: David Chilton on Covenant Theology

David Chilton

As I mention on the Newsletters page of this site, I plan on selecting, from time to time, some really OLD newsletters from the archival catacombs of Gary North’s website where he has all of the original ICE (Institute for Christian Economics) newsletters stored in PDF format in his Free Books section, and reposting them here.

One of those newsletters was called “The Biblical Educator.”  It ran articles written by various authors — including this one by David Chilton, vol. IV, no. 2, February 1982.

Chilton was probably one of the best writers among an all-star cast of theologians, pastors and teachers in the movement at the time.  Even Dr. North remarked how he had to do almost NO editing of Chilton’s work whenever he was preparing a book manuscript for print, as, for example, with Paradise Restored.

He had a style that was easy to read and yet sharp and to the point.  Chilton made absolutely sure he was getting his message across to you, and that you were getting a good, solid grasp of what he was saying without overwhelming you with a lot of seminary-speak!

If you want a taste of his preaching — he was a passionate and engaging speaker who really knew how to boil down biblical theology into understandable, everyday (and entertaining) terms — listen to a sample of it here.

Rare David Chilton Lecture Series on the Book of Revelation  (Thank you, Steve Macias!)

I would be interested in your feedback on whether you find this particular reprint helpful… or not. (If you don’t find it helpful, then you are obviously still in your dispensationalist sins!… Just kidding.)

Even those of us who have been calling ourselves Calvinists and embracing “covenant theology” for a while can stand to benefit from a thoughtful reading of this simple-but-profound, back-to-basics presentation.

Here is the original article, uncut, uncensored, for your edification and spiritual and intellectual enjoyment.

AN OBJECTIVE THEOLOGY OF THE COVENANT

By David Chilton

Many of you will assume that the following article is just another article on infant baptism. But it isn’t. Many more will think it is not relevant to Christian school issues. But it is. So, on second thought, perhaps you’d better sit down and read it.

The Bible teaches us to think of salvation, the family, the church, and all of life in terms of the Covenant. From the beginning in the Garden, man’s relationship to God – which covered every aspect of his existence – was covenantal: that is, salvation was not individualistic (concerned only with the individual believer), but instead involved his entire household. This does not mean, of course, that all members of a believer’s household were regenerate: but we’ll get to that in a few moments.

Consider some examples of covenantal relationships in biblical history: Adam was the Head of the Covenant between God and all mankind; when he rebelled, he and all his descendants were damned (Rem. 5:12, 18). The godly line of Seth is contrasted with the ungodly line of Cain, the high point in each covenantal line being the seventh generation from Adam (Gen. 4:1- 5:24). Then came Noah, with whom God established the Covenant by which his whole household was saved (Gen. 7:18; 9:9). The Covenant with Abraham also involved his household – not merely his children, but his slaves as well (Gen. 17:9-13). As Meredith Kline has conclusively demonstrated in By Oath Consigned (Eerdmans, 1968), the biblical idea of Covenant is an authority structure: the Covenant is imposed upon a man and includes all those under his authority — wife, children, slaves, and so on. This aspect of the Covenant is inseparable from the Covenant itself. Thus, when Paul told the Galatians that their conversion placed them in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gal. 3:7, 29), he was telling them that their situation was exactly the same as that of any non-lsraelite in Old Testament times who had become a believer: his initiation into the Covenant brought in his household/authority structure) as well (see Ex. 12:48). If you are in the Covenant, all those under your authority are to be placed into the Covenant structure as well.

Now, some of you are already disagreeing – and I haven’t even gotten to the main point of the article yet. But in order to keep you reading, let me ask you a question: Do you believe in the Ten Commandments? Forget the “theonomy” thesis for a moment; just concentrate on the original Ten. Do you believe they’re still valid ? If so, you are required to believe everything I’ve said up to now. For if you believe in the Ten Commandments, you must believe the Second Commandmentr including the part which is rarely quoted: “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments” (Ex. 20:5-6). This passage teaches that curse and blessing are covenantally passed from generation to generation. H you believe the Ten Commandments, Covenant theology is inescapable. (And, by the way, if you believe that much, then you must also believe what Deut. 28 says about blessings and curses passing through generations, ultimately affecting whole cultures. And that makes you, in principle, a theonomist. Welcome to the club! Now you know why those who reject theonomy are finding it necessary to dump the Decalogue. There’s no middle ground. )

All this is not just a bit of high-flown theologizing. It has a very definite bearing on our daily conduct. Our attitudes and actions toward one another must be in terms of the Covenant. This means much more than infant baptism alone: our whole life must be lived under Covenant law – and that holds implications which few of us have ever considered. In order to understand them, we must examine what Covenant membership involves.

Covenant Membership

The visible sign of admission into the Covenant is baptism (which has taken the place of circumcision, Cot. 2:11-12). In the Old Testament, all those under covenantal authority were members of the Covenant. Period. This is not to say all Covenant members were regenerate — far from it. In the line of Seth, both Methuselah and Lamech were alive when God announced His Covenant to Noah – yet they seem to have been included in the ungodly world. Lamech died before the flood came, but Methuselah died in the year of the flood, and perhaps in the flood itself. Another example is Ham, who was certainly in the Cove- nant, but who inherited a curse instead of blessing. Ishmael and Esau were children of the Covenant, but to all appearances unregenerate. And many Covenant members throughout Israel’s history were unregenerate as well. I’m not saying any of this is ideal. We would like it to be otherwise. We would like all men to be saved. But I am saying this: Regeneration is not, and never was, the condition of Covenant membership.

If not, what is the condition? Covenantal obedience. Look at it like this. Let’s say an alien desired to join the Covenant in Old Testament times. He and all under his authority would receive the sign of circumcision, and from then on all would be ruled by Covenant law. All would have the right and responsibility to par- take of the Old Testament version of communion (Passover and the other feasts). Can we assume that all members of the household were, subjectively speaking, “converted”? Not at all. Yet all were in the Covenant, with all the responsibilities and privileges that membership entailed.

Take a more extreme example. When Israel captured their enemies in battle, they took them as slaves. According to biblical law, these heathen slaves were immediately circumcised and included in the Covenant, with the right to eat at the feasts. Their defeat in battle and consequent status as slaves under a covenantal authority structure automatically rendered them members of the Covenant. They were requred to put away their false gods and heathen practices, and to worship and obey the true God. Regardless of their personal attitudes, they were – objectively speaking — no longer heathen. They were members of Israel, the people of God. It has always been true, of courser that “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom, 9:6); Covenant membership does not guarantee saving faith. But all Covenant members were objectively on the same footing. All partook of communion. All were blessed or cursed by Covenant standards. All were addressed throughout the Old Testament as “my people” – until the time came when Israel’s disobedience re- sulted in the excommunication of the nation as a whole, and the Covenant line began to be filled by the Gentiles, who were grafted into the covenantal tree of life (Rom. 11:17-24).

The essential point to grasp here is that one’s covenantal status — one’s membership in the church, the people of God —is based on objective, not subjective, criteria. There is no rite of “confirmation” in the Bible for admission to the covenantal meals. If you are in the authority structure, you are (or should be) in the church. Membership is not voluntaristic. In the Bible, if oaths had been sworn over you by your lord husband, parent, or owner), you were a member of the people of God whether you liked it or not. Ultimately, if you didn’t like it — if you rebelled against the Covenant – there was only one way out: being “cut off” from Israel (which, at the very least, meant excommunication).

Perhaps the best way to see what happens when we apply objective theology to practical issues would be to contrast it with the practice of two conflicting schools of thought – Realism and Nominalism.

Realism vs. Nominalism – vs. the Bible

Which is more important — unity or diversity? Should society’s needs come first, or should those of the individual? What is most basic to reality – collectivity or individuality? This issue is known in philosophy as the problem of The One and the Many (see R.J. Rushdoony’s book by that title). Historically, the question has been answered from three different perspectives. Realism (it’s called that in philosophy, for reasons that will become apparent; but Realism is not realistic, really) sees oneness and unity as being basic to all reality. It is the view that names, symbols and rituals are real things, which completely determine the particular things that they define. Nominalism, on the other hand, holds that symbols are just names, not realities. Nominalist see diversity and individuality as being most basic.

But the biblical answer is to be found in Trinitarianism. God is triune, and all reality is structured in terms of Him. A brief definition of the Trinity might be this: One God without division in a plurality of Persons, and three Persons without confusion in a unity of essence. God is not “basically” One, with the individual Persons being derived from the oneness; nor is God “basically” Three, with the unity of the Persons being secondary. God is One, and God is Three. There are not three Gods; there is only one God. Yet each of the Persons is Himself God — and They are distinct, individual Persons. But there is only one God. To put it in more philosophical language, God’s unity (oneness) and diversity (threeness, individuality) are equally ultimate. God is “basically” One and “basically” Three at the same time. And the same goes for all of creation. Both unity and diversity are important – equally important. Neither aspect of reality has priority over the other.

Let’s say a Realist and a Nominalist happen to see my wife kiss me. The Realist will say, “Aha ! A kiss is symbolic of love. That kiss proves Darlene loves him !” But the Nominalist will retort, “Whaddya mean? A kiss is just a kiss, like the song says. Sure, it’s a symbol of love. But it doesn’t mean she really loves him. The question is, what’s the attitude of her heart?” I, however, am a Trinitarian; and when my wife kisses me, I recognize it as a symbol of her love, but I also enjoy it because it’s not a “mere” symbol. It is an act of love, and the two go together. I’m sure you’d like to read more of this hot stuff, but let’s go on to some less romantic issues of the Covenant, and consider how each of these views approaches them.

1. Government. The Realist school, holding that unity is fundamental, maintains an episcopal form of church government – power from the top. The Nominalist, believing that diversity is ultimate, and that each person’s individuality is sacred, favors a congregational pattern in which power is exercised democratically, from below. Realism tends toward totalitarianism; Nominalism tends toward anarchy. The biblical form of government is presbyterian, in which there is a balance of power within a structure of authority.

2. Baptism. Realists believe that ritual washing with water really removes original sin. Nominalist see baptism as “a visible sign of an invisible grace,” in which the important thing is whether the individual has already made a decision. They do not see baptism as a means of grace. To them, it is ultimately a “mere” symbol, and cannot be efficacious. The Bible, in contrast to Realism, does not teach that baptism regenerates; nor does it teach, in contrast to Nominalism, that one must give evidence of regeneration before being baptized. Baptism is a means of grace, and signifies not the subjective experience of the recipient, but the objective imposition of covenantal authority over him.

3. Communion. For the Realist, the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are really transformed into the body and blood of Christ, The Nominalist believes communion to be, again, a “mere” symbol of an inward attitude in the individual — and it’s the attitude that’s important. This is why most Nominalist practice open communion, in which anyone can walk in off the street and partake of the sacrament. The radical Nominalist (e.g. the Quakers) dispense with the sacraments altogether. The biblical teaching is that the bread and wine are always only bread and wine; and yet that in the Supper we are having dinner with Jesus, who feeds us with Himself as we eat and drink together.

4. Excommunication. When a Realist church excommunicates you, you’re damned. The decree of those in power effectively consigns you to eternal perdition. Of course, if you’re a Nominalist, you’ll regard the decree as just so many words, and you’ll start attending a Nominalist church down the street. Nominalist churches hardly ever excommunicate anybody – and if they do, the judgment has all the awesome significance implied in not receiving the church newsletter any more; and the excommunicated person gets his name listed on the rolls of another church.. The biblical doctrine is that a lawful sentance of excommunication places a person outside the visible body of Christ, and denies him the opportunity to meet the Lord at His Table. But excommunication does not necessarily mean damnation. It is, in fact, a last-ditch effort to bring the offender back to the faith. The judgment is efficacious (one way or the other); but it does not make a determination of the condemned person’s eternal state. Excommunication has to do with the visible church.

5. Church membership. For a Realist, eternal salvation is guaranteed by membership in the visible church – baptized children are unquestionably regarded as regenerate. For a Nominalist, eternal salvation has little, if anything, to do with church affiliation: everything depends on the individual’s decision to accept Christ — and if he has “decided for Christ,” he is considered a Christian. Church membership is nice, but purely voluntary. Children are unquestionably regarded as unregenerate (except for the Nominalist’s “safety net” – the wholly mythical, unbiblical notion of an “age of accountability,” before which children are not accountable to God for their actions, and are “saved” without being regenerated). The biblical view of church membership is objective and covenantal: All baptized persons (church members) who have not been excommunicated are to be regarded as in the household of God. They must be addressed as members of the Body of Christ, and even “little ones to Him belong.” Communion is to be served to all church members, unless they are under discipline. But communion is to be withheld from those who are not members of a church, regardless of their claims that they have accepted Christ. Unless they belong to Christ visibly, through membership in a real authority structure, there is no objective basis on which to regard them as Christians. Note: i am not saying a non-member is necessarily unregenerate; just that there is no objective evidence that he is. Nor am I saying that communion may be served only to members of my own congregation or denomination; but that communicants must belong to a visible structure somewhere. Communion is thus neither “open” nor “closed,” but restricted.

Theology: Objective and Subjective

All those who are united to a visible church – by which I mean any orthodox, creedally-defined church — are to be regarded as fellow members of the Covenant. Their theological understanding may be woefully limited or defective; nevertheless, by their baptism into the triune Name, they are under the covenantal authority of Christ, and belong to Him. They are to be served communion. They should be required to tithe. In short, all the rights and responsibilities of Covenant membership belong to them. Voting and office-holding, however, are not automatic rights of the Covenant, and may legitimately be restricted to those heads of households who have received sufficient instruction in the faith, and who demonstrate in their lives those characteristics appropriate to the exercise of such respon- sibilities. Our ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) must be objective.

Yet this is not to discount the necessity of regeneration and personal faith. Regeneration cannot be visibly perceived (John 3:8), but it is no less real. Preachers must exhort their flocks continually to believe, repent, and obey the demands of the Covenant to which they were sworn. But they must not address their people as “presumptively unregenerate,” for Covenant members are the people of God, the church of Jesus Christ. Read the writings of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles — do you ever find them speaking to the church as heathen? Never; not even in I Corinthians, and the congregation in Corinth was really a mess. Church members, even erring ones, are addressed as called saints (the same expression as holy convocation in the Old Testament). They are commanded to live in terms of their covenantal calling, and exhorted to refrain from living after the manner of the heathen (who were always differentiated from them). There is no rite of “confirmation” in the Bible, because there is no need for it: Baptism is the confirmation into the Covenant. You will never find a distinction in the Bible between “communicant” and “non-communicant” membership, because all Covenant members took communion (except for those who were excommunicated). One obvious objection to all this is that it can result in multitudes of disobedient, rebellious, apparently unconverted people taking communion. And such an objection is completely correct. That will be the result, until the day comes when church officers repent of their lily-livered pussyfooting and get serious about church discipline. The Table can be protected. But it does not need to be protected from children.

One of the chief reasons for the downfall of the Puritan theocracy was its confusion between subjective and objective theology. The Puritans rightly understood that eternal salvation is inseparable from regeneration and faith; but they confused that with requirements for church membership and communion. Thus they devised “tests of saving faith” which members had to pass successfully before being admitted to communion. These tests soon degenerated into demands for a subjective, datable experience of conversion — and such an experience had to conform to specific canons produced by the scholars of New England. If your experience didn’t match the order contrived by the theologians – if you had no memorable “experience” at all —in short, if all you had was a love for God and a desire to serve Him in covenantal union with His people: Sorry, try again next time the session meets.

The result was that thousands of church members became “non-communicants,” thousands more never attempted to join the Covenant, and the Puritan Hope of a Christianized culture went down the drain. Solomon Stoddard’s misguided attempt to salvage the situation was demolished by his grandson, Jonathan Edwards: and for all the good that was done by Edwards, Whitefield and the Tennent family in the Great Awakening, that event marked the end of a hope for a covenantal theocracy in America. Joining the Covenant became entirely relegated to a subjective, “spiritual” (i.e., neoplatonic) realm, completely unconnected to objective Covenant union in a visible church. Authority and discipline went out the window, and so did the possibility of Christian reconstruction. Now, almost 250 years later, true evangelicalism is synonymous with philosophical Nominalism. Subjective theology is the order of the day, and any attempt to return to a biblical worldview looks to most people like heresy. The first time I read Norm Shepherd’s article on “The Covenant Context for Evangelism,” I thought he had abandoned Calvinism. The trouble was that I hadn’t been reading Calvin. I’d been reading Arthur Pink, Gardiner Spring, and the Banner of Truth.

There are many applications we could make of Covenant theology, and I’ve hinted at a few already. But I’m running out of space, so I’ll suggest one more, with specific relevance to Christian schools. If the children in your school belong to Covenant homes, do not treat them as if they need a conversion experience. Instead, speak to them on the basis of the oaths to which they are already bound. They are in the Covenant, they are members of Israel, the Body and Bride of Christ. They are not little angels, but they’re not little pagans either. They have been sworn to Jesus Christ as His own. Objectively, they are His children; subjectively, they must live as His children.

(For further reading on the issues raised here, see Shepherd’s article, mentioned above, in The New Testament Student and Theology, ed. by John H. Skilton [Presbyterian and Reformed, 19761; Jim Jordan’s “God’s Hospitality and Holistic Evangelism” [Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. Vll, No. 2]; Jordan’s “Theses on Paedo-Communion,” available from Geneva Divinity School; Edmund Morgan’s Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea [Cornell University Press, 1963]; and Terrill Elniff’s The Guise of Every Graceless Heart [ROSS House, 1961. )

The Reconstruction of the Church

Reconstruction of the Church book cover

Looking for a good book on how to reform the church?  Here’s one to start with.  This is a 28-year old volume published (1985) by the old Geneva Ministries of Tyler, Texas, called The Reconstruction of the Church, part of a series called Christianity and Civilization. It was edited by James B. Jordan.

It is a symposium that was held on this topic, the fruits of which are this series of essays written by some of the leading figures in the early years of the Christian Reconstruction movement, dealing with the theme of the Church and its mission and role within the context of society and the modern culture.

The essays are provocative, illuminating, and really do represent the broad range of opinion that has always characterized the movement–no monolithic band of biblical ideologues, this bunch!

James B. Jordan, Peter J. Leithart, Gary North, Ray Sutton, David Chilton and George Grant all contributed along with other lesser known reconstructionists, Lewis Bulkeley, James Michael Peters, Marion Luther McFarland and Jim West.

If you’re familiar with the work of most of these men, you know what gifted writers, teachers and thinkers they are.  And each of the chapters in this book is its own self-contained monograph on its respective topic.  Great reading!

The book is divided into four sections:

PART I: THE CHURCH IN DISARRAY

PART II:RECONSTRUCTING CHURCH GOVERNMENT

PART III: RECONSTRUCTING WORSHIP

PART IV: RECONSTRUCTING MISSION

The essays all have intriguing titles like, “Church Music in Chaos,” “Clothing and Calling,” Culture, “Contextualization and the Kingdom of God.”   Some are historical: “Revivalism and American Protestantism,” “The Church in an Age of Democracy.”  Some are theological/expositional: “The Marriage Supper of the Lamb.”  And some are a whimsical allegory driving home a larger, powerful point: “Conversations with Nathan.”

The shared conviction of what this collection represents is best summed up in Jordan’s introduction, where he says that there are three principles (“pedagogies”) that need to be at the heart of any real reformation, beginning with the Church: true government (discipline/boundaries), true worship (sacramental liturgy/ritual) and true teaching (doctrine/instruction).

The perspective of the organizers of this symposium is that the reconstruction of the Church requires the reestablishment of all three of these pedagogies… When these things are recovered by the Church, since judgment begins at the house of God, they will also be recovered by society at large. The Church is the nursery of the Kingdom, and there can be no reformation in state, school, or family, until there is reformation in the Church.

Man’s problems are indeed religious, but religion is not just theology, and man’s problem is not just bad theology. Religion is also the discipline of ritual and the restraining virtue of court-enforced boundaries. There must be recovery in all three areas, or there will be recovery in none.

Nothing in this book is pietistic, contemplative or introspective.  All of the essays are powerfully written, practical and forthright, with an appropriate mixture of humor with intense, relentless candor about the graveness and importunity of the subject at hand: the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ in the world to the unconverted and the lost, and the faithful advancement of God’s kingdom and God’s principles implemented in time and in history on earth.

In Part I, James B. Jordan addresses what he calls “the present mess” that he sees in the American Protestant church, with its “anti-ecclesiastical piety.”  Lewis E. Bulkeley talks about church renewal biblically applied to ailing congregations.  Peter J. Leithart discusses how revivalism, despite its positive impact, has undermined our biblical conception of the Church.

Part II is on church government.  Ray R. Sutton defines it and talks about its role in handling church schisms.  Gary North argues for preserving the integrity of the church through “two-tiered” membership.  Jim West talks about the role of excommunication as a curative tool for preserving the health of the ecclesiastical body.

Part III covers worship.  David Chilton crafts a witty and fictitious dialogue between himself and his young son, exposing the liturgical shortcomings and infelicities that he finds in a typical, contemporary American evangelical church service.  Ray R. Sutton discusses formality and informality in worship, and defends the argument for clerical garb as a biblically and historically warranted expression of the minister’s calling.  Gary North draws the theological-biblical parallel between the Lord’s Supper and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  James B. Jordan addresses what he terms “the abominable state of music in the church.”  And James M. Peters explores architecture, imagery and symbolism as it relates to liturgy and worship.

In Part IV, on the outward focus of the mission of the Church, George Grant defines biblical charity and what that should look like in the surrounding culture.  And, finally, Marion Luther McFarland posits a biblical-covenantal approach to transforming culture, “liberating” it through the Gospel and sound doctrine taught and applied, as opposed to the standard, theologically liberal way of “contextualizing” Christianity to fit its native, indigenous setting.

There’s something for everyone here–as long as “everyone” is interested in reconstructing and reforming the Church to the glory of God and in accordance with the Scriptures and historic, orthodox, biblical Christianity!

You can download and read this excellent book by clicking here.

So Why Do They Hate Rushdoony’s ‘Institutes of Biblical Law’ So Much?

Biblical-Law stone tables

If you pull out a copy of R. J. Rushdoony’s seminal work, The Institutes of Biblical Law (vol. 1, especially)–that path-breaking, paradigm-shifting, pietism-slaying, antinomianism-busting book which essentially launched the Christian Reconstruction movement into orbit in 1973–and set it in front of your average evangelical, or even Reformed, Bible-believing Christian today, you’re liable to get one of two reactions: (1), “What do I care about ‘biblical law?’ After all, we’re under grace not law!“, or, (2), “Aaagggghhhh! Away with that heretical book!  Take it out of my theologically-prejudiced, Jesus-will-be-here-any-minute-now-so-don’t-confuse-me-with-new-biblical-data-that-I-don’t-agree-with presence.  My pastor warned me about THOSE PEOPLE!”

I’m sure he did.

And that’s the problem.

Theonomy, optimistic, postmillennial eschatology and a Christian’s responsibility to apply his faith (comprised authoritatively in both the Old and New Testaments) in EVERY area of life–including politics and culture–are, even now, “foreign” concepts in many Christian circles.  And even though they continue to gain a hearing in some churches and a following among more biblically and historically enlightened Christians, these and other ideas and concepts garnered from the vast mother lode of Christian Reconstructionist resources are still among the undesirable “stones” that are routinely rejected by the “builders” of Christ’s kingdom since the last century.

This is from Martin G. Selbrede at Chalcedon Foundation.  It is the feature article in the Jan./Feb. edition of their official publication, Faith for All of Life.  He discusses the impact that Rushdoony’s Institutes and its teachings on biblical law have had over the years and are having in certain churches and among certain Christians, and why it is having that impact.

Get into a comfortable chair, maybe get a little something hot to drink, and savor what Martin–that is, Mr. Selbrede–has to share with you.

You’re going to like this!

———————————————

Another Rejected Stone

By Martin G. Selbrede
Men invariably find themselves on the wrong side of the great reversals wrought by God. The things men regard highly, He esteems lightly. He uses the simple to confound the wise, and the weak to overcome the strong. The stone the builders reject becomes the chief cornerstone (Ps. 118:22, Matt. 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17). While this particular scripture involves the rejection of the Messiah, it nonetheless establishes a general mode of behavior that Christians seem dead set on repeating. Christian leaders building the edifice of evangelical Christianity for the last half-century have been quick to refuse many stones they’ve deemed to be unsuitable building materials for God’s Kingdom.

For good reason did the translators of the King James Version select the term refuse to express the builders’ attitude to the stone that God intends for “the head stone of the corner” in Psalm 118:22.  God’s people treated the Lawgiver the same way they treated His laws. Our contemporary misconceptions concerning His law are legion, so much so that when God asks “How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws,” we are certain this was uttered some time after the law was delivered on Sinai. But it was not. God asks this in Exodus 16:28, months prior to the “official” delivery of the law (“official” as determined by the reigning builders leading our churches and seminaries).1

Small wonder that in an age when the great things of God’s law are esteemed a strange thing (Hosea 8:12) we end up traveling across the country with an unsettling message to our fellow Christians: everything you know about the law of God is wrong.

If God’s law has fallen on tough times in our antinomian age, it should be no surprise to find that proponents of God’s law are refused by the builders as well. When R. J. Rushdoony wrote The Institutes of Biblical Law, the book quickly joined the ranks of refused stones. In affirming this, we’re not ascribing canonical status to this imperfect work by an imperfect man, nor equating his book with Scripture, nor identifying its author with the Author above all authors. Nonetheless, the importance of this particular work can hardly be overstated.

The cynics among the builders will be quick to impugn our motives here as self-serving: “You’re promoting that book because you publish it!” No, we don’t publish it. It is published by Presbyterian & Reformed. We draw attention to it because it benefits the Kingdom of God to do so, not because it benefits us financially. Our goal is to expand the reader’s awareness of the significance of this book. In a cynical age, this will be an uphill battle, one made more difficult in the face of resistance mounted by today’s builders.

Rushdoony’s Unforgivable Sins

Why does Rushdoony’s Institutes elicit such hostility among the builders? After all, books about the Ten Commandments have been fairly common in Christendom. At the dawn of the Reformation, John Wycliffe expended considerable ink on the government of God and the Ten Commandments in one of his most important works, his Summa Theologiae (not to be confused with the Summa of Thomas Aquinas). The heirs of the Reformation, the Puritans, likewise regarded the law of God as an issue that needed to be engaged, not neglected or ignored. The fact that God’s law was generally held in high esteem at the high point of Biblical scholarship in the Western world should not be missed. In contrast, today’s quick-and-dirty, sloganized dismissal of the law of God is worse than embarrassing: it has utterly neutered the people of God.

Modern evangelical Christianity has veered off its moorings into the plush comfort of vague generalities. Today’s builders have yet to meet a spiritual cliché they won’t embrace with enthusiasm. Perhaps those of us influenced by the Puritans have been marginally less than gracious when ascribing “warm, fuzzy, pious gush and mush,” to modern ChurchSpeak, with its unbalanced elevation of feelings over all other considerations. If this dominant mindset hadn’t mired so many Christians in a potentially fatal immobility, patience would have been easier to exercise.

The appeal of generalities is that they don’t touch us directly, they mediate information by way of abstraction, and abstraction is always a step or more removed from concrete reality. Speaking in generalities permits us to be oblique. When we generalize the Word of God, we dull its sharp edge. The Word of God becomes a two-sided pillow2 rather than a two-edged sword.

This was the first of Rushdoony’s sins: he was specific. He didn’t spiritualize the Decalogue with high-sounding rhetoric that would actually make void the law of God (Ps. 119:126) or render the commandment of none effect (Matt. 15:6). Recognizing that all of the law and the prophets hang on the two great commandments, Rushdoony mined from God’s own commentaries on His law. God was specific, so Rushdoony’s exposition followed suit.

This was entirely unacceptable.

Although the builders may concede that the law of God is good if used lawfully (1 Tim. 1:8), that the law is perfect, just, holy, spiritual, and to be delighted in with the inner man (Rom. 7:12, 14, 22), the law must always be presented as a vague generality, an inaccessible goal, or (better yet) both. When presented in this way (stripped of specifics), the builders believe they’ve realized the ideal of the spirit (a general ethos) that gives life rather than the letter (God’s statutes) that kills. They’d surely deny that they’ve added or taken away from the law: they’ve simply generalized it. (When pharmacists invented Bufferin to make aspirin easier on the stomach, the notion was valid. Had Bufferin been invented by evangelicals, there’d be no aspirin in it-just buffers to soothe the stomach.)

Books about the Ten Commandments that deal in generalities, that play it vague, that rearrange our Christian clichés and slogans with eloquence, don’t elicit hostility. They’re welcomed because they buffer us from God and the power of His Word.

This was a game that Dr. Rushdoony had seen played out too many times, to ruinous results (especially as a missionary at Owyhee). Muzzling the Word of God was an exacerbation, not the solution, to man’s burgeoning problems. The New Covenant, among other crucial things for Christians, did indeed involve the writing of God’s laws on our hearts and mindsin specifics, inculcating the same spirit motivating David’s composition of Psalm 119. The first Psalm was to be taken as written (it extolled the law of God), not as hijacked by the builders (who point to anything but the law of God as the thing to meditate upon day and night).

In other words, one of the stones already rejected by today’s builders is Psalm One’s reference to the “law of God.” That ugly stone has since been replaced by a much better brick, one hewn by the hand of man, leading the reader away from specifics and back into the evangelical fog.

The Puritans were not crippled by such “improved readings” of the Psalms. We today are not merely crippled; we’re in a body cast and on life support. We ourselves are the emperors without any clothes.

Then along comes Rushdoony.

Rushdoony: the one who waxed specific about the law. The one who treated the specifics as if God had actually written them. By talking about specifics as if they mattered (and they do), he did something dangerous to the generalizations. He swept them, all of them, aside as thinly veiled attempts to repackage human autonomy within the contours of Christian spiritual terminology.

Rushdoony did this two ways. First, he painstakingly documented the consequences of neglecting the specifics of God’s law. Second, he did the same for the consequences of “observing His commandments, to do them” (Psalm 103:18). Most observers expected a Christian writer to speak to the first point, but not so much to the second. But by dealing with the law’s specifics across all domains of human action (cultural, economic, sociological, environmental, scientific), Rushdoony opened up new avenues for seeing the folly of mankind and the wisdom of God. He was unmuzzling the whole counsel of God. And the builders found this to be unacceptable. They preferred to repose true value in God speaking through His Spirit to individual souls, not in His speaking to us through His law. Not merely to assert value, but moral obligation and a ground of blessing, of the law of God (like the Scriptures, in their irksome way, sometimes seemed to do) was beyond the dimensions of our modern cramped orthodoxies.

It is somewhat remarkable that the concept of orthodoxy can even survive in the context of vague outlines and fuzzy generalizations, but that haze is strenuously guarded not for its own sake, but for what hides behind it. The man in Matt. 5:19 who loosens even the least commandments of God and teaches men so is deemed “the least in the kingdom of heaven.” By blowing away the fog, the sharp outlines of the antinomian’s razor is revealed in stark contrast against the background of Scripture.

But there was more. The loosening of God’s commandments creates an ethical vacuum that is always filled by something else. In fact, creating new rules of conduct for Christians is itself one way that God’s laws are loosened, not only individually but in the aggregate. Why? Because such attempts at lawmaking undercut the sufficiency of Scripture. The man of God is assuredly not “thoroughly equipped for every good work” with the Old Testament, no matter what 2 Tim. 3:17 reads: men must amend God’s law, peel some of its unacceptable or unworkable parts away, and using our vague general spirituality as a guide, build a more workable set of rules for Christian conduct for our modern era.

Over the course of its 800-odd pages, Rushdoony’s Institutes gives the lie to that misguided Christian conceit. For faithfully recounting the wonderful things in God’s law, the book’s author was labeled a dangerous extremist (that’s when the builders were being nice). In fact, the builders found themselves in agreement with the enemies of Christianity in their assessment of Rushdoony. This is strange company to be in … or is it? Perhaps their joint commitment to human autonomy (overtly so among the humanists, covertly so among far too many Christians) led these two groups to sing in harmony this one time … against the evils and horrors supposedly riddling God’s law.

The Dislocation of Liberty

Beyond the sin of magnifying all the commandments of God (that is, the sin of dealing with specifics, the fleshing out of God’s moral imperatives for man), Rushdoony revealed something else about the law’s detractors. These men invariably pose as champions of liberty, but God’s law maximizes human liberty while rejection of it puts us under the oppressive power of our fellow man. Isaiah 5:20 refers to those who call good evil and evil good, and this moral reversal is routinely played out over against the debate concerning the place of God’s law in our world.

When observing Rushdoony’s achievement in documenting the truth of the Psalmist’s assertion that he walked at liberty because he sought God’s precepts (Ps. 119:45), the builders are quick to contradict the Scripture: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! Avoid the bondage of God’s law. Enter into the freedom that comes when those ugly specifics of God’s law are set aside.

But just as Psalm 119:45 cannot be broken, neither can Psalm 94:20: the wicked frame mischief using law. When the law is slacked (Hab. 1:4), something else takes up that slack: the precepts of men. Men abhor moral vacuums, and if God isn’t Lord over the matter addressed by one of His statutes or precepts, then man slips his feet into God’s shoes to legislate in His stead.

Some builders might tolerate the restrictions that God’s law might impose on the secular state, but no builders will tolerate the restrictions that God’s law would place on the church’s most sacred activity: making rules for the congregants to walk by. Ultimately, the implicit defense of autonomy that drives the antipathy toward God’s law merely masks an aggregation of power by human authorities in both church and state. The law of God cuts across all these boundaries to liberate men from lawless overreaching by all human institutions. Since these institutions put on airs as the defenders of liberty (rather than its enemies, as is regrettably the case), they must either repent or characterize Rushdoony’s position as insane (as some have, for all intents and purposes, already done).

Is it not revealing that we have as hard a time finding an elected official who’ll actually follow the U.S. Constitution (setting aside the debate over its Biblical status) as we do a church leader who’ll follow the entire Bible (which, unlike the U.S. Constitution, is actually perfect)? In both cases, men seek to cast various cords from them and burst various bonds asunder (Psalm 2:3), no matter how glowingly they paint such rebellions as liberating acts.

Today’s builders, then, know full well that God’s law encroaches on their power, their authority, their autonomy, their spiritual sinecures, and their plans for the future. They know this as well as the secularists know it-perhaps even more so. If they were not wedded to these “benefits” of antinomianism, they would bend the knee and acknowledge the glory of God’s perfect law of liberty. Instead, they go away very sad, for their possession of legislative power in their spiritual communities is very great and they’re unwilling to put that at risk by unleashing liberty among their flocks as God would have them bestow it in their capacity as His mouthpieces.

If liberty is a dangerous thing, perhaps few should have the actual article, and the rest should merely be convinced into thinking they have it. Nothing achieves this goal better than the vague fog of ChurchSpeak, which has taken turns into Orwellian paths that would have been unthinkable a century ago. When the law of God is magnified, men can clearly recognize whether they’re abiding under their own vine and fig tree or not, and illusions become impossible to maintain. In a world sustained on empty illusions, a world that effectively “loves death” (Prov. 8:36), the gatekeepers have spoken appropriate words of comfort: “peace, peace” (Jer. 6:14; 8:11)-but they heal the wound of His people slightly.

The Sin of Contemporary Relevance

God makes clear to His people that His words are not distant and inaccessible but “nigh, even in thy mouths” (Deut. 30:11-14). But too many of our builders today will argue that while God’s laws may not be distant in terms of miles, it isdistant from us in terms of years. If it was delivered thousands of years ago, it was in a form that must only be useful to ancient agrarian societies-not to us.

The builders then assure us that this is their motive for retreating into the haze of vagueness: by so doing, they can glean some spiritual meaning for us today, thus preserving God’s law to us in the only form that we could possibly find benefit in. They find life for an old worn-out shoe by putting a new soul [sic] on it. Their paperback books glory in the hidden treasures of the old shoe (without ever denying, let alone challenging, the “fact” that it’s an old shoe). The builders are then back in the driver’s seat, now becoming the champions of restoring the contemporary meaning of God’s law (as they’ve discerned it) by teaching it in abstraction.

Rushdoony challenges this line of reasoning, arguing from Scripture that the law of God is timeless and speaks to all men in all societies across all temporal boundaries. His powerful exposition of the details of God’s laws so thoroughly establishes their contemporary relevance that it sounds the death knell for those who hold the opposing view (that God’s law is a quaint artifact that long ago retired as the Word of God Emeritus). It is here that Rushdoony’s encyclopedic knowledge comes to the fore, sweeping forward and backward in time with example after example illustrating the wisdom and perpetual applicability of God’s precepts.

Most builders wouldn’t have taken offense if Rushdoony had restricted himself to delineating the value of God’s law during its supposed earthly run (from Moses to Christ as many poorly-guided Christians currently hold it). Rushdoony does no such thing. He shows that Christians who embrace their calling to “establish the law” (Romans 3:31) have an unlimited runway in front of them. By opening the doors to possibilities the faithful had lost sight of after the Puritan era ended, the work of Rushdoony and like-minded Biblical scholars before and after him has set in motion something extraordinary: Christians who have finally taken up the proper armor to fight in, and the proper tools to build with. If the Word of God has contemporary relevance, and we’ve neglected to apply it, then the crying need of our era is to fulfill the Great Commission in its fullness while taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Men and women influenced by Institutes and by preaching based on the whole counsel of God know for a fact that the Word of God is sufficient.  The liberating power of that one point can change the entire world.

Then, the only task remaining is to extend the reach of God’s law, extending the realm of liberty and holiness and Christ’s lordship over all things in the process. This follows from the fact that there is no neutrality in God’s world (despite what the peddlers of piously fuzzy theology might argue). The Bible asserts that “even the plowing of the wicked is sin” (Prov. 21:4), so that men are to work toward an ever-broadening application of God’s law as implied in Psalm 119:96: “I have seen an end to all perfection, but thy commandment is exceeding broad.”

In short, if the law is merely for ancient agrarian cultures, we have to dig deep to find something of value in it for us andour world. But if, as Rushdoony shows, the law is addressed directly to us and our world, and our crises are a direct result of our studied neglect of the Scriptures, then we are actually equipped with the tools God has given us to establish His kingship over our persons and our families … and then beyond.

These are tools that the builders do not believe you should take up or use. They are not for you, they say. These are tools with no contemporary purpose. Stick with the current program, or hunker down, but in any case, do not build anything-especially without our sanction, and especially not with stones we’ve rejected.

But these are tools that Rousas John Rushdoony put directly into your hands, going around the builders entirely. It is yours to decide whether to slacken your grip and drop them into a dustbin, or to wield them like a man.

Rushdoony’s Final Sin

Perchance the builders of modern evangelical Christianity could have forgiven Rushdoony for being specific instead of protecting the status quo ethical haze that hangs like gauze before the eyes of God’s people. They might have been able to overlook his proclamation of liberty from man’s better-reasoned substitutes for God’s laws in both church and state. They might even have been convinced to wink at the vibrant call to action implicit in Rushdoony’s treatment of God’s Word as a timeless revelation rather than a historically-conditioned temporary ethic for ancient Israel that God terminated after sixteen centuries (which He might reinstitute for yet another ten centuries as held by premillennial believers but which most definitely is not for us today). All of that might have been forgiven.

But R. J. Rushdoony won’t be forgiven by these builders.

If you read The Institutes of Biblical Law, you will quickly realize why this is so.

This book is so unremittingly Biblical, upholding such a high regard for God’s enscriptured Word, and then carrying the light of that Word in all its manifold details into every imaginable area, it comes across as a virtual roadmap for applying our faith in ways that are utterly concrete and ripe with meaning.

Rushdoony illustrates how God has actually positioned the true moral axis of the world: not upon moralism, but upon godliness. These two things, moralism and godliness, are not the same thing, as Rushdoony repeatedly proves, again contradicting the builders’ all-too-humanistic vision of morality and Scripture. But how many Christians know this? How many Christians continue to orbit the wrong moral axis, the one still commended by our builders?

Even less forgivable to the builders is the fact that Rushdoony’s book is absolutely formidable in stretching the scope of the Ten Commandments back out to their original total dimensions, thereby revealing the tragic fact that the Word of God has been shriveling and contracting under our watch as we’ve “limited the Holy One of Israel” (Ps. 78:41) under the urging of our builders. Rushdoony’s Institutes reverses the incredible shrinking Bible effect, and comes little (if anything) short of fomenting an explosion of the applied Word of God across all Creation. Every paragraph of this book has the net effect of retaking lost ground. There are few things that can motivate a dedicated Christian more than working to increasing his King’s holdings in the world, starting with himself and his own family.

But there is one thing that is an even greater motivation.

For the final sin of Rushdoony is how he turns the tables on all the builders who vaunt love as the great Christian value. Far from being what his enemies depict him as (an ungracious, unloving legalist), anyone reading Institutes in one hand and the Bible in the other will soon realize that it is Rousas John Rushdoony, not our evangelical leaders, who is the truetheologian of the heart. The careful reader will soon realize that Rushdoony is propounding nothing new, he’s calling for a return to a lost faithfulness on the part of God’s people and pointing the way.

There is no stumbling in the darkness when the statutes of God line the path you walk upon. That is the “highway of holiness” that is so easy to see under the light of God’s law that “wayfaring men, though fools, will not err therein” (Isa. 35:8). In modern language, we’d say that Isaiah is setting forth The Idiot’s Guide to Holiness by using such pointed terms: anybody can understand it, and everybody will know how to walk there. “The redeemed shall walk there,” Isaiah informs us (Isa. 35:9).

For the truth of the matter is that Rushdoony’s Institutes cannot help but prick hearts. It edifies, but it also indicts, for the Word of God always has two edges, and it is probes deeply into “the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Moreover, the greatest commandment could not be more clear: we are to love the Lord God with all our heart. If all the law and the prophets hang on this command and its companion verse in Leviticus 19:18 to love our neighbor, theneverything in Rushdoony’s book is directed to how we love God with all our heart. To do this one ultimate thing, while still addressing every other culture-transforming aspect of the book disclosed above, ranks as the most valuable gift any Christian can give to another.

Releasing such a comprehensive, many-faceted love upon our families, churches, and culture, if pursued with the same heart with which David wrote Psalm 119, will quickly show how comparatively anemic our contemporary builders’ notion of love in all its vagueness really is. The specifics of God’s laws embody true love, toward God, toward man, and even toward creation itself, as Rushdoony ably documents.

The more ministries and churches and families incorporate Institutes as a source of exposition, of edification, of guidance, the more they find themselves building on the rock of God’s total word to man, and the less intimidated they become in handling the whole counsel of God in our modern world. The modern builders’ agenda of keeping their fog machine stoked, of refusing the stone of God’s law and any books that unleash it among God’s people, will always appeal to escapists, to antinomians, to those content with false liberty, and any who prefer emotional intoxication over a heart bent on fully serving God and man.

If you can’t see that our builders have already led us into an incredibly deep ditch,3 you will not recognize that Rushdoony is leading you to maturity, liberty, truth, and a faith that overcomes the world.

But once you read the Institutes, you’ll never again see the Ten Commandments as a tired Christian cliché filling dull Sunday school lessons for children. You will know that God’s Ten Commandments anchor nothing less than a siege engine that will level every shakable thing and lay them all in the dust so that the unshakable Kingdom alone will remain. And you and your family will act on that certainty with invincible resolve, total conviction, utter humility, and with every single atom of your being.

1. The strident, tendentious efforts to explain away God’s references to His statutes, laws, and commandments in Genesis 26:5 and Exodus 18:16 (and everything in-between) are likewise heavy with the fingerprints of today’s “builders.”

2. The Monty Python skit concerning the Spanish Inquisition mirrors our modern approach quite effectively, insofar as the most dreaded weapon the fictional authorities use against their targets is “the comfy cushion.”

3. As has been well said, the culture is the report card for the church.

Martin G. Selbrede is Chalcedon’s resident scholar and Editor of Faith for All of Life and the Chalcedon Report.

Reprinted by permission from the author.
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